The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has begun the process of withdrawing from Syria, the start of a U.S. pullout that has been clouded by mixed messages from Washington.
On Friday a spokesman said the coalition “has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria.
Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troop movements,” The statement coming a day after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Cairo defended the withdrawal, insisting it was not a retreat.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO, SAYING: "This isn't a change of mission.
[FLASH] We're looking to our partners to do more.
[FLASH] For our part, airstrikes in the region will continue as targets arise." President Donald Trump's announcement last month that he had decided to withdraw 2,000 U.S. troops stunned allies that have joined Washington in the battle against Islamic State in Syria.
Top U.S. officials were shocked too, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who quit in protest.
Most immediately impacted may be America's Syrian Kurdish allies, who proved an effective fighting force against Islamic State militants.
But the U.S. pullout risks leaving the Kurds at the mercy of Turkey, which views the fighters as terrorists.
Ankara says it is preparing an assault in Northern Syria.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton this week suggested America's withdrawal was contingent on assurances from Turkey it would not attack.
Turkey dismissed that condition, and Pompeo said the withdrawal would continue.
Now, America's allies on the ground are turning to Washington's rivals for protection.
A Kurdish official told Reuters last week they had presented Russia with a roadmap to a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, in the hope of striking a political deal that will stave off Turkey and shield Kurdish autonomy in the north.
The Assad regime said it was pleased with the development.
Members of Trump's own party have tried to persuade the president to proceed carefully, and not embolden America's enemies in the region.